updated 09/09/2009 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 09/09/2009 AT 12:15 PM ET
Janet Jackson, who will honor her late brother Michael during a special appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, admits in her first interview since his death, “I’ve been doing okay,” but adds, “It’s really hard to believe he’s passed.”
The singer, 43, who appears on the cover of the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar, tells the magazine the last time she saw Michael alive was at family gathering on May 14, where they cracked each other up over Thai food. “We had so much fun that day … [He] would laugh so hard, he would just start crying,” she says.
Jackson was on the Atlanta set of her upcoming Tyler Perry movie when she heard the tragic news; she flew to Los Angeles to grieve with the family – and was there to comfort Michael’s “sweet” daughter Paris, 11, after she spoke at the Staples Center memorial on July 7. “I was really proud [of her],” she says, adding that Paris and her brothers Prince, 12, and Blanket, 7, “are all so smart. ”
As for how the kids (now being raised by grandmother Katherine Jackson) are coping, Janet tells the magazine, “They’re with all their cousins. That family love, that will keep them going.”
What’s keeping Janet going is an inner strength inherited from her mother. “I always wanted to have my mother’s strength, but I didn’t know if it was really there. … Now at least I know that I can step up to the plate and not crumble when I’m needed. When it comes to something like this that is so, so serious, so painful, so traumatic, I can handle it.”
In the interview, the singer, nicknamed “Dunk” by Michael, reminisces about her brother’s sense of humor – “Sometimes his humor would be corny, sometimes dry,” she says – and their special relationship.
Says Janet, “He was always very protective of me.”
And she took care of him, as well: “When I was 14 years old, I would shop for him, washed his clothes, cleaned his room. When Mother would go out of town, she’d say I’m leaving you in charge, take care of Mike.’ I would head home from school, see what he needed, then go straight to the stores.”
Janet also reveals the origin of the now-iconic sequined black jacket Michael wore for Motown’s 25th anniversary: “That’s our mother’s! He grabbed that from her closet!”
Twice-married Jackson, who is single since splitting with longtime boyfriend Jermaine Dupri, also talks to the magazine about her romantic prospects.
“I’ve had people ask me out,” she says, but she hasn’t taken anyone up on their offers.
As far as she is concerned, whether she ever marries again – or even has kids (“Sure, I’d adopt,” she says) – is out of her hands.
Says the singer, “I’ll put it like this: if God wants me to, then I will.”